"I love my cats because I love my home, and little by little they become its visible soul." Jean Couteau

Thursday, January 28, 2016

christmas doors

OK, so I'm a little behind on my posts. Sorry about that. I have no good excuse, so I won't try to make one up. 

For Christmas, I promised Zach that I would make him doors to go on the display shelf I had made him for our anniversary. This project wasn't too hard; I pretty much whipped it off in a weekend. The main trick was just getting the pieces just the right size to fit in the grooves I'd already made in the shelf. I made each door 1/3rd the total width of the shelf, so one section would always be open and the other two sections would be closed.

I'd planned to use the same wood as for the rest of the shelf and had even done a dry test when I'd originally cut the grooves to make sure of the fit. But I guess with the addition of a couple of layers of paint it was just enough to make it too tight because when I cut my first piece and went downstairs to test it out, it was too wide to fit in the groove. So I figured down a bit narrower and went to Home Depot to see what I could find. What I found was pressed and sanded plywood for making cabinets that was just the right size. I was psyched to not have to get a giant sheet of plywood that wouldn't fit in my car. 

Each door took several iterations, from the initial cut, test the fit, then slowly sanding down more and more to get it just right (because I always erred on the side of a little too big to start), plus all the edges nice and smooth for good sliding action. Then it was time for priming with my usual Kilz latex, then painting with my usual Glidden black sample pot. I had also gotten handles to make it easy to grab and slide the doors back and forth.

Zach isn't one to get super excited about a lot of things, but he was impressed by the knobs, thinking they made the doors look fancy. And I think having the doors makes the shelf look a lot nicer overall, hiding most of the disembodied superhero heads from view!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

some things are better to not diy, but some things you have to

We have a cat room. I believe I've mentioned it before. It's one of the spare bedrooms in our house where the cats have a big cat tree and some climbing shelves, their food and most of their litter boxes. Plus we shut them in there at night so they don't bother us. They really like their room and hang out in there a lot during the day, even when they have full range of the house. 

Even after our forays into the world of animal behaviorists (which you can read about here and here), we still seem to go through phases of bad behavior in the cat room, though I'm happy that it's at least confined there. The problems are definitely worse at night, so it may have to do them being shut in there and just something we have to live with in order to get better sleep.

The real problem with all this is the floor. As mentioned above, the cat room is a spare bedroom. It is carpeted. When we first moved in and made it the cat room, we covered a significant portion of it with a plastic dropcloth and rubber puzzle mat, like they have in nursery schools for kids to play on. This has been a HUGE help in cleaning up messes, even just the litter and food crumbs that inevitably spill all over the place. However, it's not perfect. It buckles, and there are little cracks between the puzzle pieces, and every now and then we have to pull up most of the pieces and clean them, which is a hassle. Plus, the mat doesn't cover the entire floor, and recently the problem area has been in one of the few areas not covered by the puzzle mat, i.e. on carpet. This caused me to finally say enough is enough, we need to replace this carpet with something more cat-friendly.

My initial thought was ceramic or porcelain tile. I know that to be quite impervious to liquids. My dad had recently redone both the bathrooms in their house, so I called him up to see if he might be available sometime to come help. He said sure, but also brought up vinyl as a really good option. When I thought of vinyl, I thought of cheap old linoleum, thin and pealing and gross, but my dad said a lot of vinyl is thick and good and long-lasting. So I did some research and decided that vinyl sounded like it would be just as impervious for our needs as ceramic or porcelain and would be a lot less work and expense. 

Then came the decision of what kind of vinyl. Back when my parents put the vinyl in their laundry room that is still there today, there was only sheet vinyl. Today, there are also plank and tile vinyl and loose-lay vinyl. We visited a local flooring store, Bode Floors, to talk to some folks about what would be the best choice for our needs. Although the woman we spoke to and pretty much everything I read online claimed that any of the plank, tile or loose-lay options would be completely water-proof for our needs, I remained skeptical. Plus, like hardwoods, most of these options required an expansion gap around the perimeter of the room. Even though moulding would cover it up, I still worried about liquid sneaking in there. After debating back and forth for a couple of weeks, we finally decided to go with the old sheet vinyl stand-by. 

I was told by both my dad and another DIY-er I trust that, if we chose sheet vinyl, we should not lay it ourselves. It's just big and heavy and awkward, and you have to lay it just right in a tight area. So, we listened. We went back to Bode Floors and ordered some floor to be installed. 

There was one part we DIY-ed though -- the carpet removal. We wanted to take it up to have time to clean any potential stains that may have made it to the subfloor. As we were going through the contract, it turned out we would have had to do it even if we hadn't wanted to -- their contract states that, for health reasons, they won't remove urine-soaked carpet. 

We scheduled the floor install for a Monday, so we'd have the weekend to clean out the room without having too long of a disruption to the cats. The initial part went pretty quickly -- take out the bookshelves, cat tree, litter boxes, assorted other miscellaneous bins and cat things that live in there. The toughest part was figuring out where to put the cats' food and litter boxes for the few days they'd be evicted from their room. Our house doesn't give us a lot of options. We settled on the dining room. Yay, litter boxes in the dining room. 

Next came pulling up the carpet. The guy from Bode Floors had told me exactly where to cut the carpet at the door threshold, which was very helpful because I would have cut it in the wrong place. You want the vinyl to only come to the inside of the door, so it kind of depends which side of the jamb your door sits on. If you close the door, it helps you visualize it. Indeed, the area of carpet and carpet padding near the door was super gross. We'd had it covered up with carpet runners for the past few weeks, which held the smell in, but pulling the carpet up let everything out. If only you could take pictures of smell. Actually, it's good we can't do that yet because it would be really nasty. 

Underneath that gross carpet were brown stains on the subfloor. I sprayed them liberally with Nature's Miracle. This has been our go-to cleaner. It's an enzymatic cleaner, so it breaks down all the urine into particles that don't smell anymore. I'm not saying this is better than any other enzymatic cleaner out there. It's just what we use. After letting it soak in for awhile and then letting it dry, I'd paint over it with Kilz primer to seal in any remaining odor, just like when I did the stairs

Zach pulled up all the tack-strips while I corralled all the carpet pad and disgusting carpet into trash bags. Since the cats really like to sit and roll around on carpet, we decided to keep some of the good condition carpet pieces for their room. The plan is to keep a few pieces, but just put out one at a time, so if they ruin it, there's more. Zach also did most of the staple-pulling. This is pretty much the worst part of removing carpeting, pulling out all the staples left behind from the carpet pad. He did great. Then it was vacuuming everywhere with the shop-vac to get all the little left-behind bits to leave a nice, relatively clean subfloor.

It turned out that some of the baseboard was also in pretty bad shape, so replacing that quickly got added to the to-do list and that "no, we shouldn't need any help" that we told our awesomest friends ever turned into a "yeah, actually, i could really use your help and your miter saw" phone call.

I had a big piece of baseboard that had somehow I guess been a free gift with purchase of the stair nose. Super weird, but it was in the box when that arrived, and I didn't seem to be charged for it, so I just stuck it in the garage. It looked super long, so we didn't actually measure it (bad idea), and just started cutting. Then it turned out to not be quite long enough. However, if we hadn't cut it, it would have been long enough for the main wall, and the old piece had a big enough good section to cut for the small wall. Of course, now we'd cut it up, so that wasn't going to work so well, so now it was off to Home Depot. Lesson: MEASURE FIRST. 

Actually, first it was off to homedepot.com to see if they even had anything in stock that would match. A lot of times, things are only available online. Luckily, we found something in stock that looked like it would be a close match. From the online description, it sounded exactly like our moulding, though when we found it in the store, it wasn't a perfect match. However, for the cat room, with a strict time deadline, I said close enough. 

We had now measured the exact amount we needed. We got the new baseboard cut and installed. Then we all ordered Chinese takeout to make all the work worth it.

Sunday, I finished up painting the floor (I did 2 coats). I also finished the baseboard, filling nail holes, caulking, painting. I also had to spackle patch up the wall a bit where the drywall had ripped up some when I was pulling the old baseboard out. 

Monday, the vinyl floor guys came. They put down additional plywood subfloor to get the new floor closer to carpet height. Then they laid the vinyl. It took several hours, a lot longer than I was expecting, but they did a great job, and we're very happy with the result. Plus, a few months in, and maybe only one peeing incident. We did also rearrange the cat room, the bookshelves and litter boxes to make it a bit more open where the litter boxes are. That may have helped as well. But we couldn't have done that with the old flooring arrangement. The cats also did so well for the few nights they were out of their room during the floor reno that we've also been letting them stay out of their room at night, so I'm sure that has helped as well. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

the five-year anniversary gift is wood

At the same time Zach was asking for his triangle table, he made another movie room carpentry request as well. Since we had our anniversary coming up, and the five-year gift is wood, I thought, 'hey, perfect!'

This second request was for a sort of shelf box to sit in front of the window to get the collectable figures off the floor. All these action hero collectable people come with multiple heads (often mask on/mask off situation, but sometimes more lame like calm hair/wind-blown crazy hair), so the underneath shelf area will provide some bonus head-storage area. As Zach and I talked about it, I said, "And, hey, wouldn't it be awesome if there were doors, so you couldn't just see all the heads lying about in there?" Of course, yeah, he thought that was a pretty good idea. Good job, making more work for myself.

We measure the theoretical shelf box to be 7" tall, 8" deep, and 42" long. I decided to use the same sort of pine board I had used for the triangle table, mainly because I still had a good amount leftover that I could use for the smaller sides. I also planned to put two supports on the inside to divide the box into three sections. Then I would have two sliding doors that would cover two sections at a time, leaving one section open.

I went to Home Depot and got another 48" long pine board that I cut into two 8" wide pieces. I decided I wouldn't have time to make the doors in time for our anniversary, but I did need to make the top and bottom pieces in preparation for adding the doors later, which meant making grooves to enable the sliding action. I found this Remodelaholic post where they made a pegboard cupboard with sliding doors, which helped me figure out how to do it. I made my grooves slightly wider than the width of the pine board, which less than 3/4". I made the groove for the bottom of the shelf about 1/8" deep and the groove for the top about 1/4" deep. Both grooves start 1/2" in from the edge of the board. I created the grooves using my friend's table saw. I set up two fences that would allow me to move the board back and forth to make that wide groove without making it too wide and set the blade at exactly the right height. I did a little test with a scrap piece of wood.

After I had my grooves cut, I cut my side pieces. Then I decided it would be easier to paint the insides before assembly since the inside would be pretty small and tight after assembly. So I primed with Kilz Latex, then did two coats of the same black paint as the triangle table. I was starting to run low, so I got another sample size at Home Depot. Then I did a few coats of spray polyurethane. After all that was dry, it was assembly time. 

I again used my cool new corner clamps, wood glue, and 1.5" brad nails. First, I attached each of the sides to the bottom, then I put on the top. As you can see from the photo, I actually attached the sides to the bottom before painting. But then I painted before putting th top on. I'm still a pretty big fan of my new corner clamps. :-)

Next, I measured and cut the inside support walls. They have to come not quite all the way up to the groove so the doors can slide past them. Again, I wanted to paint them before putting them in since in would be tight to get a paintbrush in the box. To make the process go a bit faster, after priming with the same Kilz Latex, I spray-painted them with Rustoleum in black. Instead of taking two coats with four hours to dry between coats, I could do two coats in less than an hour. The paint covered really well too, such that I debated whether I really even needed two coats. I still did, just to be safe. The paint was really shiny though, so I wouldn't want to use it on the outside. But for inside walls that you won't really see, it was just fine. I did a couple of coats of the polyurethane too.

I did some math to figure out the placement of the inside walls, which turned out a very nice, even 13" for each of the three sections. I cut some scrap wood into 13" strips to help me get my walls placed properly. Due to the small size of the wall, I could only fit one of the corner clamps on a side, and because the wall doesn't come all the way up to the front due to the groove, the clamp couldn't reach on the front. Therefore, I could only use one clamp for each wall. Still, it was better than nothing. I got things lined up with that one clamp, then put on some glue and slid the wall in place. I used my scrap wood to make sure all part of the wall were lined up and square and even, then cranked down my clamp. Then I shot some nails in and did the whole thing again for the other wall.

Then it was time to fill in all those nail holes and cracks where my boards didn't quite line up properly. Wait for the wood filler to dry and sand. I really hate sanding. Sanding is a lot of work. But I'm learning how worth it sanding is. Of course, then there's all the clean-up from sanding. I wiped everything down with a damp paper towel. Then I wiped everything down again with a tack cloth. Tack cloths are great. Paper towels tend to leave little bits of themselves behind, so even if they clean up all the sawdust, things still aren't 100% clean. But the tack cloths are sticky and don't leave bits of themselves behind, leaving everything ready for painting. 

Which is exactly what came next. Priming, to be exact. Then lots of black paint. With lots of waiting between coats. And then a few coats of spray polyurethane. 

Then I had to attach the back. I had found some sort of 1/4" thick board at Home Depot that looked like the backings of Ikea shelves. I cut it to size on my friend's table saw and spray painted that black. Then nailed it on with 5/8" nails, the smallest size my brad nailer will take. I wanted to use shorter nails because there were some spots where I was afraid I might run into other nails if I used longer nails, and the back was thin enough I didn't need to use long ones there.

And that was it. Zach liked it, though he seemed less impressed than with the triangle table. Maybe he's starting to have higher expectations. I didn't get any good pictures of the shelf by itself finished, but here it is starting to perform its duties. Zach didn't want to load it up too much since I'll probably have to move things around a bit when I make the doors.

Saturday, October 31, 2015


We recently got a Nest Learning Thermostat as our free gift with purchase of our solar panels (which we haven't actually gotten installed yet, so more on those another time). We didn't actually know we were getting one until I got a shipping confirmation email of a Nest we hadn't ordered. However, we kind of guessed maybe it was from the solar guys, and when asked, they confirmed, oh yeah, we forgot to tell you we'd be sending you one of those, enjoy!

I'd read about the Nest thermostat before. In fact, back when the Young House Love blog existed and I was an avid reader, John installed one in their house. So I was not uninterested in this new arrival. I opened it up and was immediately taken in by the beautiful packaging. I have to say, I'm a sucker for good packaging. I hate it when things come in giant packages with tons of wasted space. This was compact and layered quite wonderfully. 

First layer

Lift out the first layer, and you reveal the second layer

Lift out the second layer, and you get to the third layer

Lift out the third layer, and you have the fourth and final layer of goodies!

I read the instructions to have an overview of what I'd need to be doing, then got started. The first thing to do was turn off everything. We have dual zones, and although I was only replacing the thermostat for one zone, I turned off the breakers for both zones, just to be safe. 

The next step is taking off the thermostat cover. 

The wiring inside ours was very simple. Like John, I was a big fan of the included stickers for labeling the wires to help remember which is which. Some of them were a little tough to free from their restraints, but I eventually got all out and labeled. Then it was just a matter of unscrewing the rest of the plate from the wall and swapping to the new one. 

Again, HUGE fan of the built-in level. After screwing on the back-plate, snapping on the thermostat was, well, a snap! 

The software started right up and walked through the language and location setup. I wasn't able to test the air conditioning because Nest was on the Internet and said that outdoor temperatures in my area were too cold; Nest won't turn on air conditioning if outside temperatures are below a certain point (I think it was 50 deg F, but I don't remember for sure. It might have been 60. The picture above was taken at a different time). But I was able to successfully test the heat and fan, so I felt some warm-fuzzies that I had done the wiring correctly. 

As you can see from the above photo, the Nest is much smaller than our previous thermostat, revealing an area of unpainted wall and some drywall anchors. I debated what to do about this. That fourth layer of packaging contained a wall plate for just such a circumstance; however, it was a sort of creme color. This would have perfectly matched the wall before I painted it tan, but I didn't think it would look good not matching the wall and not matching the sleek black and chrome Nest. I thought about removing the drywall anchors and patching and painting the wall. I found a paint can in the garage of the paint used for these walls, but it turned out to be empty (I subsequently threw it out). I could have gotten some more, but I didn't want to get a whole gallon for a tiny patch job and didn't know if I could get a small amount that would still match well enough. So in the end, I grabbed some black spray paint I had lying around and spray painted the creme wall plate. I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but it's good enough for now.

I think we're still kind of in the learning phase, both for the Nest and for me. We're in a time of year when we often just have both heat and air conditioning off, so that's happening a lot, so I'm not sure how much learning is happening then. As we get more into colder times, I guess we'll see how it goes.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

another birthday, another carpentry project for the movie room

With Zach's birthday coming up, he made a request this year -- he asked that I build him a triangular end table for the basement. There's a little nook between a couch and two other tables where he wants it. He currently has some weird, hacked cardboard contraption that I have no idea how it doesn't collapse under the weight of all the Captain America men he has standing on it. He wanted it to look just like the Ikea tables he has, which are very simple. Although the triangle part had me a little nervous, it didn't sound too super difficult, and I was pleased with his confidence in me, so I said I'd do it.

The first thing was measuring the area. I measured the depth as 23" and the width as 17 3/8". I pulled out some long un-used geometry and trigonometry to figure out the angles and other side (which turned out to be not quite 53 deg, just over 37 deg, and about 28.825"). I didn't really need to know these ahead of time, as I measured them later, but I like having big-picture knowledge like that when I'm starting out.

I went to Home Depot and bought what I thought was an 18"x48" piece of pine. I swear that's what the sign said. I should have measured it. I should have read the little sticker on the board. It was actually 17.5"x48". For this project, it was actually better because it was close enough that I didn't even have to cut that side because that side kind of tucks under the arm of the couch anyway. However, for a different project, I might have had to go buy a new piece of wood.

For the other side, I used a new tool I'd recently purchased. It's the Kreg Rip Cut, and it's supposed to help make a circular saw more like a table saw, as in make straighter cuts. One end attaches to the saw, and the other end has a straight edge to track along the edge of the board you're cutting. There's a slider in between, so the two ends can be different lengths apart, allowing you to make cuts about 1" up to about 24" wide. 

After getting my new tool all out of the packaging and assembled, I got some scrap wood and did some practice cutting to see how everything was lined up and if my measuring was right. I have to say, it's a bit unwieldy. The saw end it so heavy, the end that's supposed to stay lined up with the end of the board doesn't just stay down next to the board on its own, so I had to keep my one hand over there holding it down. However, with a wide, 23" cut, that meant my arms were pretty far apart. Plus, I usually use that other hand to help hold the board more firmly, which helps keep the cut nicer at the end. 

I used my Rip Cut to cut the 23" cut all the way across my board. Then I took the tool off and used my circular saw the normal way to cut diagonally across the board to get my triangle piece. At that point, I took it downstairs and had Zach come give his approval for how it would fit in the space. Even though it was going to be a present, it wasn't a surprise, and I figured that was safest before going to any more effort to make this table.

Next, I needed to make edge pieces to make the table top appear thicker. The Ikea tables are 2" thick, but my pine board was only 0.75" thick. I had some scrap 0.75" thick boards that I used to make the edges. Since I felt only mildly successful with the Rip Cut, I decided to use my friend's table saw to create 1.25" strips (plus I was going to need to use his miter saw, so I had to go over there anyway). I then used the miter saw to make all the necessary angle cuts to fit the strips around the triangle. This was not as simple as the chair rail cuts had been. Even though I measured the angles, the cuts didn't seem to come out right, so I eventually devolved to trial and error with scrap pieces. I also seemed to be right up against the angle limits of the miter saw for one of the angles. But I finally got pieces that mostly fit together, and the parts that still weren't quite all the way, I covered with wood filler, so it looked OK.

Here is my little soapbox about wood filler. When I first started building wood things, I was impatient to get to the end. I thought, 'those little cracks? those little nail holes? surely paint will fill those in and no one will notice them.' But that's just not true. Those cracks and holes aren't really that small. It really is worth it to take the extra time to fill all those cracks and nail holes, wait for the filler to dry, and sand it down, and maybe even do it again for larger areas. Your project will look SO much better. The end.

I attached the top to the edge pieces with wood glue and 1.5" brad nails. After assembling the top, I had to attach the legs. I was initially kind of concerned about how I was going to make these 2" square legs. Then I recalled that we have this crappy Ikea table in our dining room that I've been planning to get rid of. It's exactly the same kind of table as the ones that Zach wants the triangle table to be like. The top is all water-damaged and bubbly, but the legs are just fine :-)

So I took off three of the legs and attached them to the top using glue and 2.5" finish nails. Next came more wood filler for all these nail holes. Lots of nail holes. 

Finally, with all the holes and cracks filled and sanded, it was time to start painting. I started with Kilz latex primer. I just did one coat of that. Then I moved on to the black paint. I used the same paint I had leftover from Zach's birthday present two years ago. That took three coats to get nice coverage. I probably could have gotten away with two coats, especially since the table will mostly be covered with collectables, but I went for the third coat anyway. Then I finished it off with three light coats of spray polyurethane in a satin gloss.

When Zach's birthday came, it was a little bit not super exciting, since he knew what he was getting. I gave it to him in the morning, so he's have time to 'play' with it, i.e. get all his people set up on it. He was properly impressed. He said it looked better than he was expecting (I'm still not quite sure what that means), and that it looked exactly like the Ikea tables he has. So I guess I'll take that. Though Dodger was less than impressed.

This picture does not even do justice to the dead, uninterested look in his eyes as I brought the table into the room, covered in a blanket, and as Zach opened and read his card and then unwrapped the table and exclaimed over it.

We took the table down to the basement, took out the cardboard table Zach had made for the spot before, and put in the new table. It fit perfectly and looked great! We were both pretty pleased :-)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

supergirl baby turns one

Remember when I made this blanket for my friends' baby in the NICU? Well, that little lady has been out of the NICU for quite some time now and just turned one year old. In honor of this momentous occasion, I decided to make her a little present. I had actually gotten this idea a long time ago, probably not long after she'd been born, when I was in Joann Fabric for some other reason, waiting around the cutting counter. There was a stack of free project ideas, and I saw this and thought, 'that is so adorable, I want to make it, my friends just had a baby, now I just need to wait for her to have a birthday so I can make it for her.'

I figure since the instructions were free for anyone to take at Joann, it's probably OK if I post them on the Interwebs. The instructions call for felt, but I used grey fleece that I had leftover from this other baby blanket I'd made for another friend's baby (so many babies!). Most of the colored fabric I used were leftover from my pastor friend's stole

I won't really go into details because I really just followed the instructions, and they're pretty simple. However, it did take me much longer than their estimated 3-5 hours. Of course, not being a teacher or having children, I didn't have number stencils, so first I had to find some numbers I liked from the Google, make them the appropriate size on my computer, print and cut them into my own stencils. I spent way more time choosing numbers than was really necessary.

Then, as with my friend's stole, I chose not to just iron on the numbers, but also sew around them. Not only did just doing that add time, but I also practiced on some scrap fabric first, plus I tried out a couple of different types of stitches before choosing what I believe is called a blanket stitch. Initially I was going to go with a really tight zig-zag stitch, like I used on the stole, but after some practicing, it wasn't going well. The numbers had a lot of curves, and I have a new sewing machine from when I did the stole, so I'm not too sure about all the settings, and it didn't seem to be working as well or looking as good as I remembered from the stole. After reading through my manual, trying to get tips for making this work, I discovered this other type of stitch. I tried it, and it worked better, and I thought it looked good, so I went with it. But that all ate up a lot of time.

So finally I got the numbers ironed and sewed on the grey fleece fronts. Then I attached the fusible fleece to the colored fabric, then sewed all of that to the grey fronts, then turned everything right-side out. 

The tricky thing was figuring out how much stuffing and rice to put inside. The instructions don't specify, just saying "equal parts." I think I ended up with about half a cup of each. Obviously, it's kind of hard to measure the stuffing, as it's very fluffy. I put it in the measuring cup and then smushed it down, so it was a smushed-down half cup. That made the bags still pretty floppy, which was what I wanted. Also, you can't really buy a small bag of stuffing, but this project doesn't take a lot, so if you have ideas of other things I can make with all my leftover stuffing, let me know :-) I do have more friends with babies, so maybe I'll just have to make a lot more of these. I do already have my number stencils now!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

dualing toilets

I've been thinking about converting our toilets to dual-flush ever since I read this post on Young House Love. Also, my office building has dual-flush toilets, and I think it's a great idea. The Petersiks made the conversion sound so easy, I finally got around to giving it a try. I bought the conversion kit they recommended from Amazon, and soon it arrived on my front step. 

It turned out to be perfect timing, too, because we had just gotten our water bill, so now we'll have almost a complete cycle to compare when we get our next bill. We have four toilets in our house, but I decided to just do the one in our master bathroom, which is the one we use the most, and see how it goes. If it really does seem to save a significant amount of water, I'll move forward with more toilets.

I will go ahead and say now, I had a bit of an issue, but it was entirely my fault and lack of toilet knowledge. One of the reviews I read on Amazon was a guy saying that he had not realized that the conversion kit worked only if you didn't have a ballcock fill valve, and that if, like him, you did, then you'd have to replace that too. I didn't know what that meant, but it kind of sounded like older technology, and since our house is only about five years old, I assumed we didn't have that. Turns out, we do! I will get more into that later.

Back to when I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that I had the wrong kind of fill valve for the conversion kit. 

I opened up the conversion kit and read all the directions to get an idea of what I might be getting myself into. They say that turning the water off is optional, but I find sticking my hand in cold toilet tank water to be pretty gross, so for me, it was not optional. At one point, Zach came in to check out what was going on, and we had this little conversation:
Zach: How come there's no water in the tank?
Me: Because I turned the water off.
Zach: You can do that?
Me: Yeah, there's this little knob down here on the floor behind the toilet. Sometimes I know things.

Once I got the water turned off and flushed the toilet a couple of times to empty out as much water from the tank as possible, I got to work following the conversion kit instructions. Just like John Petersik, I needed a wrench to get the handle off. I also needed pliers to take out this huge ball float thing, which John did NOT mention. This was my first inkling that perhaps I had a ballcock fill valve and this wasn't going to work. However, I decided to ignore that little nagging feeling and keep going with the installation. 

Side note about the handle... The conversion kit came in two different handle types, button and lever. The Petersiks had gotten the button kind. I chose the lever kind, so it would look more like our other toilets. The handle has an inside lever for the small flush and an outside lever for the regular flush. When you flush the inside lever, it kind of feels like both levers are going down, and you think, 'this seems like it's still going to do the big flush,' but it doesn't.

I finished up the installation, turned the water back on, and the toilet tank started filling. And it kept filling. And it started going down the overflow tube. And it kept going. Until I turned the water back off. It was at this point that I did a Google image search for ballcock fill valve and found a picture that looked suspiciously like the pieces that were part of my toilet. I turned back to the front page of the conversion kit instructions where I had previously seen this note:
"If you have a ballcock style fill valve, you may need to purchase a HydroClean or HydroWorks fill valve."

It was a little after 2pm, and we had somewhere we needed to be at 4pm. I didn't want to leave our primary toilet in a non-usable state, and I also didn't really want to undo all the work I had just done. So I went to homedepot.com and looked up the HydroClean Fill Valve to verify that they carried it and that it was in stock at my local store. Then I drove over, grabbed my new fill valve, and rushed home with about 45 minutes before we had to leave.

I opened up the instructions for the fill valve, and the first step was less than informative: "Shut water off, flush toilet to empty tank, and remove old toilet fill valve." Not very helpful if you don't know how to remove the old fill valve.

So, I went to Google, which brought me to this YouTube demonstration. I smushed a bucket into the area under the toilet tank and unscrewed the flexible pipe. Then I could just pull the fill valve out and watch the remaining water drain out of the toilet tank into my bucket.

The rest of the fill valve installation just followed the instructions and was pretty straightforward. After installing the fill valve and reconnecting the pipe to the toilet tank, the inside of my toilet now looked like this:

I turned the water back on, and the tank didn't just keep filling forever! Yay! I had to do a bit of adjusting on the fill valve to get it to stop filling at the appropriate place. Then I tried pressing the small flush handle. And the toilet bowl didn't empty. I knew from Young House Love that there was some adjusting to be done to get the dual flushes to work properly. I didn't have time for that right then, but at least we could use the regular flush and still use our toilet!

I came back to the project the next weekend. The fill valve has a lever to adjust the amount of water in the bowl, so you could use it on its own to save water by lowering the water level there. However, I ended up keeping the water level in the bowl about the same, maybe even slightly higher, to get the small flush to work. The dual flush converter has its own adjustments for the amount of water used during the small flush. There was quite a bit of trial and error with that. I felt like all the benefit we might get from saving water with the dual flush was getting overridden by all the flushing I was doing to test each slight adjustment! Finally, though, I got things to a state where the dual flush capabilities work. You do have to hold the small flush handle down a bit longer than with normal handle or even the regular flush part of the dual handle, but you get used to it. With the tank lid off, I could definitely see a significant difference in the amount of water that went out of the tank with the small flush compared to the regular flush. 

Now I just wait three months for our next water bill to see how much this saves us. However, even if it's a good amount of savings, I may not convert all of our other toilets. Since they'll all need a new fill valve, I may just change that out and use the adjustment feature to lower the water level in the bowl and see if that's a comparable savings on its own.